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How to start planning your trip to Peru

It’s decided. Your next trip is going to be to Peru. But where and how to start planning your adventure? Peru has a lot to offer and it might seem overwhelming at first. Because we’re very avid travelers ourselves at Alternative Peru, we’ve tried to write down the steps that we take when we plan a trip for ourselves. As well as some insider’s tips for Peru specifically of course.



1. Make an extensive list of what you would like to visit in Peru


Think out of the box! Peru has a lot more to offer than Machu Picchu. You can find a good overview of the main attractions of the different areas of Peru on Peru’s destination page. You might feel overwhelmed by the number of (very diverse) options. For this reason, it might help to decide in advance which kind of areas you want to focus on: the Andes, jungle and/or coast. You can also focus on the kind of activities you are most interested in: archaeology, nature, adventure, culinary, museums, … Obviously, you should combine several of these when you design your itinerary.

If you’re interested in history and archaeology, check out our blog article on 5 historical sites to visit in Peru for some inspiration.




2. Determine the duration of your trip to Peru


We strongly believe you need a minimum of two weeks to have a quality trip to Peru. First of all because there is a lot to see and do. Additionally, you also have to take into account considerable travel time between destinations, some time to adapt to the high altitude in the Andes and in some cases jetlag. The longer you stay, the better but three weeks is a great amount of time to spend in Peru and to enjoy your stay to the fullest.



3. Decide if you want to design your own trip or if you need some help


There are various degrees of independently planning and organizing your trip. You could hire a travel agency in your hometown that organizes everything from the moment you step out of your front door so to speak. Or you can work with a local tour operator in the destination to design a customized itinerary according to your preferences. The advantage of a travel agency near you is that you can talk and discuss with someone in person. On the other hand, the advantage of a local tour operator is the local expertise, especially if you want to visit some lesser known places.

Whereas those without much time to spare might prefer working with a professional for every step of the way, others will enjoy planning their trip themselves. This can range from doing absolutely everything yourself to doing certain aspects yourself (the fun ones of course!) and working with a professional for others. For instance, you could design your own itinerary and send it to a local expert for their feedback and suggestions what to do differently and work from there. Without a doubt, they will have suggestions for local activities or sights that you might not have found yourself from across the world.

Above all, if you decide to work with a travel professional or local provider, it is important that you pick the right one for you. It’s like choosing an interior decorator for your new house. You really want one whose style fits you and what you expect from them. If not, you can give that decorator instructions as much as you want, the chances that you’ll be completely satisfied with their work are low.



4. Check how many destinations you can cover during your visit


You will need an absolute minimum of three days for most destinations. In our opinion, however, you will enjoy your trip better if you stay more time in a destination. Even if that means you cannot visit as many destinations as you wanted. There is plenty to see, do and taste in or near each destination. If you stuff your itinerary with too many places, you will constantly feel in a rush, spend way too much time on the road and not really enjoy the experience. Worst case scenario, you’ll be exhausted and get sick sometime during your trip. Been there, done that…

It is important to note that distances (amount of km or miles) in Peru do not tell the whole story. There are no real highways as in the US or Europe and traffic is unpredictable (even in the middle of nowhere). In conclusion, Google Maps cannot really tell you the time it will take to travel from one place to the other. The rule is usually: it will take you longer than you think.

With this in mind, if you have two weeks choose three different destinations besides Lima. For instance Huaraz, Trujillo and Chachapoyas or the classic tourist trail Arequipa, Lake Titicaca and Cusco. However, this does not mean that you will only see 3 attractions. There is a lot to see and do in or close to each of those. Believe us, you can easily spend one week at any of those destinations. For instance, in Huaraz you can hike to any of the beautiful lagoons in the area (a day hike or a multiple-day hike) but you can also visit the pre-Incan archaeological site of Chavín de Huantar on a full-day trip. Trujillo is not only a beautiful city with colonial architecture, it is also the location of Chan Chan, the ancient ruins of what was once the largest pre-Columbian city of South America. In addition, you can visit Huanchaco from Trujillo and spend the day there at the beach admiring the caballitos de totora, reed boats used by fishermen for the past 3000 years.

I could go on and on about this, but you get my point. Leave some free time in your itinerary.




5. Start your research on things to see and do within each destination


If you have narrowed down the destinations, it’s time to make a shortlist of sights or activities. As often nowadays, Google is your best friend. Try to make your search as specific as possible. That’s why it’s good to already have an idea of the kind of activity, for instance a community stay, a multi-day hike or a food tour, or the kind of sight, for instance a museum, an archaeological site or a nature park, you want to include.




6. Research and compare local operators for tours


Besides sights and activities, you will come across several tour providers during your Google search. While some adventurers and backpackers will prefer to do everything by themselves, for most visitors it is recommended to go to certain places on a tour. In addition to the fact that a visit with a knowledgeable local guide is a huge added value for any experience, transportation to most places outside the main cities can be tricky. Especially if you don’t speak fluent Spanish. If you usually travel independently, you can visit the sights within cities by yourself and book private day-tours or multi-day tours from the city. Private tours are much more flexible and allow for more time in certain places or extra stops. On the other hand, they are of course more expensive. Small group tours might be a good option if you have a limited budget.

It is important in your Google search for local operators, that you don’t just check the first page of search results. These first spots are often taken by the large operators, often even international players. Have a look at the websites but also check for reviews on social media or Tripadvisor. It’s not only useful to read if former visitors would recommend this specific operator, but also to know if this one is a good fit for you. Please keep in mind when reading reviews, that there are many nit-pickers in the world so read the comments in detail to see why they gave a low score.




7. Contact local operators and book your tours and hotels


When you’ve selected a few tours or operators, you can start contacting them. It is easiest to work with one operator if you’re planning to do more than one tour in a certain destination. Therefore, check with the operator you like most if they perhaps also offer that other tour you liked from a different operator. If you haven’t booked accommodation yet, you can also ask them if they have any recommendations for small and locally owned hotels or B&Bs according to your budget. You can even ask them to book for you if you want to save some time.



8. Leave some flexibility and free time


You don’t need to have every hour of your stay in Peru planned and booked yet. Leave some time to relax, wander around and just enjoy the scenery, food and interact with local people. Once you’re there, you might come across an activity or tour that you would like to try. Therefore, leave some space to allow spontaneity and last-minute decisions.

We can of course help you out with tips, suggestions, guidance or whatever you need. You can contact us by email: info@alternativeperu.org. Feel free to send your draft itinerary if you have one. Need some inspiration? Check out our page about our customized tours. Do you want to start preparing yourself for your trip to Peru? Check out our blog article on five things to do to prepare for your trip to Peru!